The King's Man
by
Rhiannon

Chapter 10

My griefs cry louder than advertisement...

 

Dr Morris walked around the sick berth softly, looking around in the dimmed light. Guido di Cesare was sitting in a chair close to Sanderson's hammock, his long legs stretched out to their full length, his pipe in his mouth. He was reading from an old, battered book, his voice kept low and soft so as not to disturb anyone else in the room.

Dr Morris sighed. He had done what he could for the boy, immobilising the broken bones as best he could, but it was the head injury that concerned him the most. If Sanderson did not wake soon...

The assassin, still ashen white from the blood loss he had suffered earlier, his leg obviously paining him, seemed to have taken it upon himself to ensure Sanderson would wake. Since the doctor had finished his work, Guido had not moved from the boy's side, his voice, now growing hoarse, to be heard in a low, continuous murmur. It was as though he believed he could provide a link back to consciousness for the midshipman, if only he kept talking.

Will Deveraux had long since fallen asleep in the doctor's own hammock, lying in a sprawl of arms and legs, turned on his side, his face covered by his fair hair. Guido had limped into the little room painfully a while earlier, pretending that he wanted to ask him something, but in reality checking that the spy commander was all right. Dr Morris smiled. He had already offended the assassin once by remarking on his concern for the midshipman, and he had no intention of drawing attention to the care the Italian showed for his friend, and compounding his mistake.

"I don't give a damn about the boy," Guido had said angrily. "I just hate waste."

Dr Morris had forborne to make the obvious comment - that considering Sanderson's death a waste was giving a damn - and kept his peace.

He went over to his stores, and decided to make coffee, needing the extra energy urgently. He looked over at the weary figure of Guido, and padded over to him.

"I'm making some coffee," he said softly. "You would be very welcome to have some."

Guido shifted in his chair, wincing.

"Please," he said, his voice just as quiet.

The doctor looked at Guido's thin body, and sighed.

"Have you ever considered that eating more might help your absorption of the antidotes?" he enquired.

He had been fascinated earlier, watching Guido dosing himself with the poison-resistants from his bag, and his quick medical brain had already begun to work out ways to assist.

Guido smiled faintly.

"Yes," he said, moving his wounded leg to the side, and grimacing. "Unfortunately, they also drive away any appetite I may have...and I keep forgetting. Deveraux goes through phases of bullying me, sometimes, but - I think he can recognise a lost cause."

The neat little man smiled briefly, acknowledging the tired jest.

"Perhaps we can work out a way of overcoming that," he said thoughtfully. "I have never before met a man who treats his body with such indifference - and such care."

Guido's eyebrows raised. He closed the book, keeping his place with one long, gloved finger.

"Indifference?" he said curiously. He considered himself to be almost fanatical about his state of physical fitness, knowing that he always had to rely on keeping his body strong and supple to complete the tasks he was given. "In what way am I indifferent?"

Dr Morris pulled up the other chair, and sat down, forgetting the coffee.

"How long was it before you realised what you had done to yourself?" he asked.

Guido looked surprised.

"I didn't really think about it," he said simply. "I was awake again...that's all that mattered. And - there were things I had to do."

Like holding a sword to Kennedy's throat... he thought bitterly. And acting like the weakest man on God's earth over Sanderson...busy, busy, Di Cesare!

The doctor nodded, not noticing the sudden self-reproach in the assassin's dark eyes.

"That, my dear sir, is your indifference," he said triumphantly, as though the assassin had just proved a point.

"Eh?" Guido looked blank. Consumed by his own thoughts, he thought for a moment that the doctor was telling him that the way he had behaved proved his indifference. The older man's next words dispelled that impression completely.

"You are completely careless of pain. It does not seem to concern you, as long as you can force your body to do what you require of it."

Guido sighed. He looked oddly disappointed.

"I know that," he said irritably. "You'd be amazed how much effort was spent in getting me to be able to do just that. That's not indifference. It's necessity."

He reopened his book, and began reading aloud again. The discussion, such as it had been, was quite clearly at an end. Dr Morris got to his feet with a faint smile. The assassin, despite his irascible behaviour, had been as obliging a patient as he could manage, drinking the endless cups of water that Morris had pressed on him without complaint.

"Are you trying to wash me away?" he had asked dryly at one point. "I don't see how soaking my stomach is going to help my leg..."

But he had still drunk each cup dry with only the faintest of grimaces, his expression politely non-committal for the most part.

Towards the end of the afternoon, his wound had broken open again, for which he had been most apologetic, regretting the fact that he needed it re-bandaged. This time, Dr Morris had been careful not to put his hands on the assassin's skin, touching only the bandages. The look of gratitude on Guido's face when he had finished was startling - and oddly moving, when seen in contrast with the habitual wariness in those dark, predatory eyes.

Dr Morris sighed, rubbing his hand over his tired face. He wished he could do something more to help the weary, long-limbed young man who sat reading in the bad light, quietly uncomplaining of his own pain as he struggled to reach out to the wounded midshipman.

The coffee, he thought then, would at least be a welcome change from the endless water that Guido had been drinking so patiently. And, at the moment, it was all that the doctor could offer him in the way of comfort.

He heard the assassin's soft voice from across the room, reading his seemingly limitless poetry.

"Go and catch a falling star," Guido read out quietly from his ancient book, turning over a yellowing page with gentle hands,

"Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me where all past years are,
Or who cleft the devil's foot,
Teach me to hear mermaids singing,
Or to keep off envy's stinging,
And find
What wind
Serves to advance an honest mind."

He paused, wondering if there really were mermaids, allowing his mind to drift for a moment, then shook his head and continued,

"If thou be'est born to strange sights,
Things invisible to see,
Ride ten thousand days and nights,
Till age snow white hairs on thee,
Thou, when thou return'st, wilt tell me,
All strange wonders that befell thee,
And swear,
No where
Lives a woman true, and fair."

Guido fell silent, his dark eyes distant. He seemed to remember reading that before to someone, and explaining it...he shook his head abruptly, and turned over the page, skipping the last verse of the poem.

"Ride ten thousand days and nights..." he murmured absently. "Is that what I'm destined for, I wonder?"

He smiled, wondering if he would once have said the same of a 'woman true and fair', in the days when such things had mattered to him. In the last few years, the 'affairs of the heart', as Will called them, had not been something that had concerned him terribly. He preferred those who took their pleasures lightly, had no desire for love or anything lasting. He knew that Will had a mistress in London, to whom he was deeply attached, but natural discretion stopped Guido from enquiring about her.

"I wonder what it's like to be loved, eh, Mr Sanderson?" he said quietly. "When you're older, maybe you'll return, and tell me..."

He sighed, and returned to his book.

Dr Morris reappeared, carrying two steaming mugs. Guido's nose twitched, like that of a suspicious cat. Then his face brightened.

"Coffee?" he asked eagerly, putting the book down on the floor.

Dr Morris smiled, and sat down again, passing one of the mugs to Guido.

"Indeed," he said. "What did you think it was going to be?"

Guido shrugged.

"Considering the things I have had to drink in England under the name of coffee," he said, inhaling the steam with obvious pleasure, "most of which have not even had a passing acquaintanceship with a coffee bean, I doubt that anything could surprise me any more."

The doctor smiled, but not at him. He was looking beyond Guido.

"If that's coffee," said Horatio, his voice as quiet as that of Guido, "could I possibly beg you for some?"

Dr Morris got to his feet, handing Horatio his own, untouched mug.

"I'll make some more," he said over the young lieutenant's protests. "And then I must go on my rounds. Excuse me, gentlemen."

He walked away on silent feet, a neat little secretary of a man who held men's lives in his quick, capable hands.

Horatio looked down at Guido worriedly, not sure how welcome he would be.

"Oh, sit down," said the assassin irritably. "I could do with the company."

Horatio eased himself into the chair that the doctor had vacated. He was stiff from head to foot, after his exertions of the morning, and hoped that the assassin's quick eyes would not notice.

Guido looked over at him and grinned.

"You look in about as good a shape as I feel," he said wryly.

"Probably better," said Horatio critically.

Guido nodded.

"Probably," he agreed.

They were silent for a while.

"How is he?" asked Horatio.

Guido shrugged.

"Morris says he has to wake up tonight. If not -"

Horatio looked over at him. The assassin looked terrible, drawn and grey, new lines of pain showing around his mouth and eyes.

"So," he said quietly. "What do you want me to do?"

Guido's dark eyes flickered with a trace of his old sardonic humour.

"Isn't that supposed to be my question?" he asked dryly.

Horatio smiled.

"Only when we're firing on a corvette..."

Guido's eyebrows rose.

"My God," he said in mock astonishment. "Was that a joke?"

*****

Will Deveraux, sleepy and crumpled, his fair hair loose and tangled to his shoulders, emerged from the little room where the doctor normally slept. His scars were almost unnoticeable in the soft light, and his tired features looked whole and intact, the drawn-up sneer of his face erased by the shadows.

He looked around the sick berth for Guido, expecting to see him lying down somewhere, and finally recognised him. He was sitting by Sanderson's hammock, his back to Will, smoking his pipe in apparent contentment, caught up in conversation with Hornblower. As Will watched, he shifted in his chair, obviously in pain, and Horatio bent towards him, his concern evident. The hawk-like face turned sideways, Guido's cynical smile visible even from a distance, and the low murmur of the assassin's voice came across the room, soft and reassuring. Will looked over at the two dark heads with an odd feeling of loss, sighed, and walked quietly out of the room, turning back towards the cabin that was now his alone.

He felt that he had failed in every way, that even his efforts at helping Guido had come too late. Had he thought about it more carefully, he would never have left the assassin alone for so long on deck, never dared risk Guido remembering what might have been, once, for him - before Lorenzo came, and took away his brother's mind in exchange for another man's life.

When he first met Guido, the young Italian had been just past twenty, idealistic and full of a determined chivalry that had startled the older Englishman into laughter more than once. He had cheerfully confessed to having no ties to his own country, and had displayed no patriotism that might have affected Will and his team of spies. His only frailty had been a laughing love of life that had affected them all, a tendency to quote from plays and challenge them all to fencing matches, to show off his dare-devil horsemanship with pride. He was over-exuberant, easily moved, young and brave and full of honour, and yet he had protected them from death with his cool marksmanship, so utterly at odds with his joyous nature, saved them more than once from being discovered and shot as spies.

Then Lorenzo met them, a devil's replacement for his younger brother, and Guido had come too late to save anyone but Will...

And had offered himself up in exchange. A year of his life, to do with as Lorenzo wished, to become an assassin, to learn to kill. Whatever was necessary, he had promised, down on his knees in the dust, his young face hard and set, vowing like a knight of old to lay down his life to save his commander.

And Lorenzo had laughed, saying something in Italian that had driven the hot blood up into his younger brother's face, causing him to jump to his feet, his sword drawn. Will had moved towards him, determined to help, and felt something crash down on his head with a force that sent him sprawling into the dirt, unconscious.

When he could open his eyes, he had been alone.

In the weeks that followed, while he slowly recovered from his injuries, he had employed new spies, sending them throughout Italy to learn of the young marksman's fate.

One man had returned, half-dead with fatigue, telling a story that Will could not believe, of the best spy and assassin in Europe, the Borgia descendant Lorenzo di Cesare, keeping his brother chained to a wall by a metal collar with a knife's edge, and of the brother who would not submit, who laughed and jested in English to the assassin's face.

A man who vowed -

"I will never kill at another's bidding! You'd have to destroy me first, and you never will!"

Guido di Cesare had been wrong in his defiant shout. A year later, he had come to England to lay his weapons at the service of the only King his tormented mind could remember - a King that Will Deveraux had once told him embodied honour to the souls of all Englishmen.
Somehow, in his agony, Guido had held onto that thought, held onto the chivalry and honour that he had held so dear, clinging to an ideal while his sanity crumbled, taking his every memory with it.

And the ideal had told him to do the one thing that had finally removed all traces of the brave young marksman who had knelt in the dust and offered his life up for that of his commander.

It had given him a name on a piece of paper, and sent him to kill.

*****

Guido's drawn face looked increasingly pale as the night progressed. He was shifting more frequently in his chair to try and ease the pain in his leg, but he held up his end of the conversation with a flippancy that could only be seen to be forced from the deepening lines around his mouth.

They did what they could to try and get the midshipman to wake up and take an interest in his surroundings, but they quickly began to repeat themselves. Sanderson was not likely to take an interest in an analysis of Pellew's manuouvres, and more importantly, Guido was never going to understand them. They could hardly talk about the one thing that was preying on Guido's mind - the choice he had made - nor could they seriously talk about any plans they had for Toulouse. As a result, they found themselves reduced to a level of banality in their discussion that was rapidly stultifying the conversation.

Horatio went over the details of the corvette's sinking with an enthusiasm that was beginning to fade, Guido mocking him at every turn with a sarcasm he could no longer hold back.

They tried everything, even pretending to discuss what would happen in France, trying to somehow cut through Sanderson's deep unconsciousness and awaken his normally infuriating interest. But there was no response.

Guido leant back, rubbing his hand over his mouth.

"It's not working, is it?" asked Horatio.

The assassin shook his head. His face was a mess, what with the cut from the inkwell, the yellowing bruises that surrounded it, and the new purple and blue mark on his chin. He touched the skin around his jawline tentatively.

"I wish everyone didn't hit me in the face," he said ruefully. "How am I supposed to be anonymous, looking like this?"

He looked indescribably weary, despite his light tone. Horatio tried to think of something to say to him that would help.

"You know," he said, "I've heard of men surviving four, five days, like this..."

Guido sighed, and his dark eyes were sorrowful.

"But he isn't a man," he said quietly. "He's a boy. And I couldn't do anything for him."

"You made a choice. You did your duty. That's different."

Guido laughed bitterly.

"Yes, and the gratitude I got for that choice made it all worth while," he said cynically, touching his jaw again.

Horatio thought for a moment that this was another of Guido's attempts to annoy him, but there was no betraying gleam of humour in the assassin's eyes.

"It wasn't a choice you could expect him to be happy with," he reproved Guido.

The assassin's eyes flashed with anger, the pain in his leg making his control uncertain, but he somehow managed to keep his voice cool and calm.

"I have no wish to discuss it," he said calmly, the even tenor of his voice belied by the barely-contained rage of his expression. "He has me down as a killer and a man who breaks his word, and so be it. It's no different to the view of the rest of the world, after all. I'm perfectly content."

"I'm sure that - " began Horatio, unable to keep the stiffness out of his voice. How dare this man be so quick to take offence? What could he possibly know of what Archie truly thought?

"I said I AM CONTENT!" roared Guido at the top of his voice, cutting across whatever Horatio was about to say as his strained temper finally gave way. He drew a deep breath, his pale, narrow face flushing hectically across the high cheekbones. "And I don't wish to discuss this further. Not now, not at any time. If I am fool enough to give my word to a man who cares nothing for it, then that is my penance for being who and what I am."

Dr Morris hurried over, and the assassin got to his feet with a visible effort.

"And if you even think of giving me any more water, I swear to God I'll drown you in it!" he snarled, and began to limp away.

"Where do you think you are going, sir?" demanded the doctor angrily.

"Out of this hell hole!" raged Guido, quickening his halting pace, and was out of sight before the doctor could expostulate further.

Dr Morris sighed, and sat down in the chair Guido had vacated.

"Guilt is a terrible thing," he said softly. "Don't be too quick to judge his words."

"Why guilt?" asked Horatio wearily. He felt as though every time he spoke to the assassin, he ended up fighting him.

The neat little man smiled.

"Because he would like to protect the world," he said simply. "And it has been a while since he tried, and now he has failed. He does not strike me as a man to whom failure comes easily, that one."

"What has he failed - oh. Sanderson."

"The boy?" The dapper little man smiled. "No. He failed to protect him, but I think he would have forgiven himself that - especially if, as may well be the case, he survives."

"Then what?"

The doctor sighed, shaking his head at the blindness and the obstinacy of youth.

"I would imagine," he said quietly, "that he believes himself to have failed Mr Kennedy."

*****

Guido gasped with relief as he finally reached the deck. The cold wind blew on his feverishly heated face, and the freshness of the air was indescribably welcome.

He limped to the rail, and gazed out into the darkness.

"Can I have a word?" asked a familiar voice behind him. Guido did not turn.

"Couple it with something," he suggested dryly. "Make it a word and a blow - that's more your usual style, isn't it, Mr Kennedy?"

Archie kept his temper. The painful rage in Guido's voice may have been directed at him, but he guessed he was not the cause.

"Well, Mercutio's not your style, di Cesare...after today, I'd say more Hotspur, perhaps!"

"Hotspur?" whispered Guido, the world beginning to spin. He fought for control, his voice a harsh rasp. "Why Hotspur?"

"Well - because - Hotspur. You do remember Hotspur, I take it? Or do you not know the play?" Archie was frowning, puzzled at the assassin's odd reaction. He quoted,

"Out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety...I'd say that summed up your actions today quite neatly!"

He smiled, expecting to see the answering flash of humour in the assassin's eyes, but there was nothing there but a blank horror, as though he had heard Archie say something else entirely...

Guido, quite suddenly, could not breathe. He put up a hand, trying to hold the words at arm's length, but it was to no avail. Memory assailed him, clutching at his mind in an unrelenting grip, and the deck disappeared in front of him.

"Hotspur," said someone, groaning in mock-protest, but it wasn't Archie's voice.

Instead, a drawling, lazy voice was echoing in the assassin's ears, and instead of the rain-washed boards of the Indefatigable's deck, he saw Hal Trevelyan, flushed and hot and half laughing with exasperation in the blazing Italian sunlight, dropping his sword to his side and gasping for breath, his blue eyes alight with mischief.

"Ah, Guido," the Englishman said, grinning despite his defeat, "A hit, a hit, a very palpable hit! Again, again, o Hotspur of the North!"

"Harry to Harry shall, hot horse to horse..." quoted Guido di Cesare, laughing at his friend's
discomfiture.

"You aren't Harry!"

"Well, I am if I'm Hotspur..."

The two young men circled each other warily. Steel clashed, and they jumped backwards across the courtyard, still circling, but at a wider distance.

"You haven't got a horse..."

"Got lots..." Guido's dark eyes were narrowed, his vision intent on Hal's strong wrist.

"Well...you're - not on - a - horse..." Hal was starting to get breathless.

Guido danced out of the way of the Englishman, laughing.

The rapiers flashed in the sunlight, and Guido saw, in his dream-like memories, his own olive-skinned hand grasping the hilt of one - without the leather gloves.

"Hey!" shouted Hal suddenly. Guido had over-reached his mark, and cut into the Englishman's arm with a quick flicker of steel.

"Oh, damn, Hal, sorry!"

"Oh, 'tis not so deep as a well..." mocked Hal, rolling up his sleeve to inspect the damage curiously. Guido came over and peered at it.

"And definitely not so wide as a church door...ah, you'll live, Hal!"

"Mercutio and Hotspur," laughed Lorenzo, who had been watching them from one of the windows, leaning out to view the fencing with all the interest of an older and more experienced brother, wise enough, until that moment, not to give unwanted advice. "What a combination - God help us all!"

Guido came back to himself with a gasp at the memory of his brother. He was dripping with sweat, one hand still held in front of him, his whole body trembling violently.

"My God..." he whispered, stunned. "I was Hotspur?"

"Isn't that what I said?" asked Archie in bewilderment.

"No - I mean yes, you did, but - before you - Archie, have you any idea what you've just done?"

Guido's eyes were blazing with excitement.

"Guido, what are you talking about? Who called you Hotspur?"

And then Archie saw the frantic joy in the assassin's eyes.

"A memory?" he asked quickly. "You're talking about a memory?"

On the night Guido had asked for forgiveness, had listened to Archie's account of the 'Justinian' and offered to kill a ghost, he had also confessed the thing that pained him most. He had no memory of anything that had happened to him before he gave in to his brother, and came out of the stone cell in which he had been held. To all intents and purposes, for all that Guido knew, he had not even been alive until he emerged from his voluntary imprisonment.

The only things he knew of his past, he admitted, were the things that other people told him. For his own part, he knew nothing, but was tormented by half-recalled images. Whenever he tried to remember, Lorenzo's face intruded, and he recalled only the never-ending torture he had endured.

If the assassin could hold onto a memory, they stood a chance of finally defeating Lorenzo, of reducing the seemingly unconquerable power that he had over his brother's mind...

"You can remember something? From your past? From before? I made you remember something!"

Archie was grinning from ear to ear, feeling that he had given Guido back something that could perhaps begin to compensate for what had been said earlier...

Guido merely nodded, not trusting himself to say what he felt without betraying himself completely. He was shaking with the reaction to what had happened, but the relief flooding through him was so sweet that he scarcely noticed.

He stuck to the facts, letting the words tumble out before he could forget what he had seen.

"I remember - a courtyard. I was fencing with a man called Hal Trevelyan...he was calling me Hotspur. I wounded him on the arm, and - he quoted Mercutio."

The assassin sighed ruefully.

"I wasn't wearing gloves," he added sadly. "I think we were very young...before the Revolution, perhaps. Then Lorenzo leant out of a window and laughed - and that was it."

"But it's a start, isn't it? If you could remember that much without - without Lorenzo getting in the way?"

Guido nodded.

"Yes," he said. "Yes, it is. I have something now. I know that I existed..."

"Guido, just a thought, but -"

"But what?"

"Doesn't it strike you as odd? That two people should call you the same thing?"

The assassin shrugged, thinking back, trying to pull fragments of what he knew into a coherent form.

"I think I was Hotspur because he was Hal," he said slowly. "I think his real name is Henry Trevelyan. And I think I tried to kill him."

He turned away suddenly, looking out across the sea, his pale, drawn face held carefully immobile.

"It's a real memory," he whispered. "I finally remembered something..."

His dark eyes were glittering in the moonlight, but the harsh blackness was gone from them. He tried to smile, tried to hold on to the feeling of exultation, but it was gone, leaving behind it the familiar feeling of loss, the realisation that over twenty years worth of sunlight and laughter, of love and friendship, had been eradicated from his mind. It had not mattered so much, when he had remembered nothing, but now, with this one memory, the knowledge that his life had been taken from him became unbearable.

"Good prince of cats," he gasped, trying to draw his face into the old sardonic lines, trying to laugh, to mock himself back into easy forgetfulness - "Nothing but one of your nine lives! He didn't want much, did he, my beloved brother?"

Then Guido di Cesare bent his head into his gloved hands, and wept like an inconsolable child.

 

End of Chapter 10